During the past week or so, events have been moving fast. The recent kidnappings that took place within Kenya, (Lamu, Kiwayu, Dadaab) served as a catalyst which saw Kenyan forces going into Somalia on 16th October to seek out Al Shabaab, in spite of Al Shabaab denying any involvement in these crimes. Much of Southern and Central Somalia is under Islamic militant Al Shabaab control and the humanitarian situation in Somalia has come to a head. Over recent months, Kenya has seen tens of thousands of Somali refugees cross the border into Dadaab camp daily due to the ongoing civil war and drought in the horn of Africa. Dadaab Camp is designed to hold 90,000 refugees - there are now closer to half a million there. Many fear that the camp is shielding members of the al Shabaab group too, who may be passing in and out, posing as refugees. It's now the largest refugee camp in the world.
flooding at Dadaab
I think that this is a proud moment for Kenyans, the majority of whom are 100% behind the action, even in the face of grenade attacks that took place Nairobi in a downtown nightclub (Sunday) and during a busy time for commuters in the city centre (Monday) - suspected to be Al-Shabaab retaliation (though these are certainly not the first grenade attacks to have happened in Nairobi). People vow to continue as normal in spite of reports of security threats. Police presence on city streets has visibly been stepped up and Police chief Mathew Iteere managed a coup on Tuesday when his cops arrested a Kenyan man with a stash of 13 hand grenades and numerous guns within a Kayole estate (thanks to a tip off) - who admitted to being responsible for the 2 recent attacks in Nairobi and a member of Al Shabaab.
Meanwhile, in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, commonly known as 'Little Mogadishu' - many Somali immigrants without proper papers have gone into hiding fearing a police crackdown in the area will see them sent out of the country.
Map showing Kenya's proximity to Somalia
The consensus is that Kenya's hitting back in order to defend her (somewhat porous) borders has been a long time coming. The fact that Kenya has been brave enough to wade into lawless Somalia which has now not had stability for 20 years and after the stinging defeat of US forces in Black Hawk Down in 1993, is something that foreign powers are extremely grateful for too. American Ambassador Scott Gration says that the US agrees with Kenya's military action in Somalia and while they are not part of the offensive they pledge to continue to give 'training on terrorism' and support Kenya with its security issues. The French are helping with more practical logistical support, helping with transportation of soldiers and weaponry in and out of Somalia.
A set back came about when on Monday, the president of the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia suddenly changed tack from openly supporting Kenyan military action, publicly announcing that Kenya was working in partnership with the TFG in Somalia, to announcing that he does not want Kenyan forces inside Somalia but only wants Kenya to train and provide logistical support for his troops. MPs in the TFG Government have expressed surprise and disappointment at their President's remarks, causing further confusion and ordinary Somalis came out waving Kenyan flags and burning images of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in towns in southern Somalia such as Dhobley Town where Al Shabaab has recently been flushed out to demonstrate. People there were reported to have been saying; "We want Kenya and Somalia to fight Al Shabaab in every corner. We do not have any other hope for life" .
In Dadaab refugee camp within Kenya, sadly many medecins sans frontieres staffers and other foreign aid workers have left since the kidnapping of two female Spanish aid workers there last week. The Kenya newspapers showed a photograph of an empty and abandoned MSF health clinic in Dadaab.
It's also been raining heavily in Southern Somalia which has made the entire Kenya offensive very difficult since the outset, though Kenya has overpowered Al Shabaab in many towns and is apparently making good headway.
On Tuesday 2 more foreign aid workers (a US woman and a Danish man) working for Danish Refugee Control were kidnapped from inside the northern part of Somalia in Puntland which came as a surprise since up until now, this area has been considered relatively safe and is not under Al Shabaab control. The story is that their Somali guards/staff were complicit in organising the abduction. They have been arrested.
Read more here
The fact that many of the the kidnappings have involved foreigners, means that the expat community who have historically been fairly exempt from local political upheavals and disturbances are now feeling spooked. But I don't think they have any particular reason to react in this way - especially if they avoid places near the Somali border - which the foreign office has advised people to do. I personally am not planning to visit Dadaab camp, Somalia itself or the very north coast of Kenya any time soon and I'm willing to bet that very few people not involved in the war or aid effort are.
There have been rumours of security warnings about possible targets for attacks being large shopping centres and places where not just Kenyans but expats hang out which has caused a frisson of alarm amongst expat housewives that I know - but these sort of security warnings are fairly common here and I don't think a particular cause for alarm. The reason foreigners have been targeted for kidnap is because of the perceived increased bargaining power they hold for ransom. I don't see that they would be particularly a target for bombing - and the recent grenade attacks showed a lone al Shabaab militant choosing easier targets of a low security bus stage's and bar, rather than high security shopping centres. Toughen up gals!!
One (curiously a South African) friend said, "doesn't stuff like this make you feel like going home?"
"No!" I shriek - envisaging myself in the future as an old expat granny in Kenya driving about with a shotgun on the passenger seat - still saying; "it's fine, it's fine!"
Instead I said;
"Might I remind you that Europe and the States is in the most godawful mess at the moment?!"
I think I have to stop being such an obsessive consumer of news, but I know where I'd rather be.
Raila Odinga is in hot water over missing 'Kazi kwa Vijana' (jobs for youth) World Bank funds totalling Kshs 33 million that have gone missing under his watch. The project was cancelled on October 11th after the World Bank had undertaken a 4 month investigation into accounting discrepancies. His enemies in politics (Will-i-am Ruto etc) are revelling in it.
Meanwhile, the capture of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and the mobile phone footage of his grisly end was played out over the weekend, with shocking details of his final hours still emerging....